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4/30/19: NOT TODAY (The Game of Thrones Arya Stark Mantra)

Updated: May 4, 2019

Sometimes there's no one who expresses my frustration better than Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe: “So I’m supposed to watch Game of Thrones on my own, like a pervert?”

Hi! I’m Coach Sarah, and This is The Morning Mantra.

*cue intro music*

Hi, my name is MK Fleming. I'm a run coach based in Denver, Colorado. But this isn't a podcast about running, exactly. Don't tell my clients, but *whispers* we're never really talking about the running. When you know a crap-tastic event is coming it helps to have a mantra to keep you centered and focused as you move through it. You don't have to be an athlete to be hashtag #coachedandloved by coach MK. And if you are here, then you are hashtag #winningatlife.

*music ends*

Today’s mantra is: “not today.” “Not today.”

There are few things as daunting as a mountain of hard work with no peak in sight. That isn’t to say that the work will never end. But you don’t know when it will. Whether it will. And you don’t know whether doing all that work is going to get you the result you want. Arya Stark should know - she spent what, four seasons of Game of Thrones stranded on another continent running away from people trying to kill her? But what did her teacher - her coach - tell her to say to death? “Not today.”

We have a lot of phrases that stand in for “don’t give up yet.” We say “just put one foot in front of the other,” we say “run the mile you’re in,” we say “keep showing up.” Those phrases can work for a certain mindset. It’s fine to run the mile you’re in when you’re out on a 5-mile run. There are only 5 miles! If you run the mile you’re in and then you do that again four more times, you’ll get to the end of the run and your patience will have been rewarded. You know this; that’s why “run the mile you’re in” gives you the cue you need to focus for just a little longer. It works because it gives you a roadmap to the end.

But sometimes there is no roadmap. Sometimes the work feels totally futile because there is no way to see whether you are actually progressing from mile 1 to mile 2, whether you’re getting any closer to the objective. If you’ve ever rehabbed an injury, you have been here. My most recent lay-off from running was two years ago, when I developed a calf strain that I really hoped against hope was a total nothing-burger, a problem that would resolve itself with a couple of days of rest. Instead, I spent a month barely running at all, and two more months after that rebuilding fitness. It was an unglamorous, unimpressive injury, but it felt stuck on me the way “Let it Go” gets stuck in my head - it was just there, all the time, and a part of me genuinely wondered whether a portion of my brain would be forever dedicated to the maintenance of the stupid thing.

The regular visits to my physical therapist ate away at my spare time as the co-pays added up. Plus the fact that I had to shlep to the gym twice a week to get some cardio exercise on a stationary bike instead of just putting on my shoes and heading out the door for a run. When I did get to run a couple of times a week, i got to do little sets of one-minute-on, one-minute-off run/walk intervals. It was boring, frustrating work, and it didn’t feel like anything was getting better; every time I ran for that one minute, I still felt the pull in my left calf. I knew I was doing all the right things; I knew I needed to listen to my P.T. and do what she said, and I wanted to believe her when she told me that it would keep getting better and better if I just stayed the course. But I didn’t believe her. I was afraid. I cried a lot during those months. Every time I drove to the gym for my dull stationary bike workout, every time I went through my P.T’s interminable warmup sequence in preparation for maybe ten minutes of running, every time I went out for a 30-minute “brisk walk”, I felt like screaming and yelling and quitting.

I think that if I could have known in my heart that my silly little calf strain would heal, that I would in a few months no longer even think about it when out running, that I would indeed go on to train for a marathon that fall, I could have gotten through those three months of rehab and rebuilding without so much angst. But I had no such conviction. I’d never been coached before, and I’d thus never successfully rehabbed an injury without just taking weeks (if not months) off from running, and the comebacks had always been halting and slow and uncertain. I had no reason to believe that just “putting one foot in front of the other” would get me where I wanted to be.

It didn’t help that during this same period of time, I was rejected from a job at a really good college for which I had been one of two finalists. I know it was at the same time because I remember going for one of my little walk-runs on their campus on the morning of the demo class I had to teach, wishing to god that I could just run the nerves away. Getting rejected from that job after pouring all my energy into the interview (which I thought couldn’t have gone better) put another slow leak in my confidence. Once I got the definitive rejection, It was time to just...keep applying for more jobs. One cover letter at a time, one foot in front of the other. Run the mile you’re in (or, you know, run/walk). But I couldn’t see the finish line, and I had lost faith that there even was one. All I knew was that there was work to do and I had to do it, no matter how little I believed that it would take me where I wanted to go.

Here’s where the mantra comes in. Hard work that leads you to somewhere you can’t see is scary. But the only guarantee is that if you don’t do it, your feet will stay right where they are. Yes, you can be angry about it. Fucking eccentric calf raises, again? A fifteen-minute warmup for ten minutes of walk-running? Another one-year visiting assistant professor position?

I’m not going to tell you to tolerate a shitty situation indefinitely. The day may come when you decide to say FUKKIT - it did for academia and me, eventually. We have a mantra for that, too. But if I had quit rehabbing my injury three weeks in just because stationary bikes were driving me crazy, I wouldn’t have been standing on a marathon start line six months later. Yes, I cried and raged a lot during that rehab cycle, because the work was dull and frustrating and I was scared, but every day, I decided to put off quitting for just one more day.

If you have your work in front of you and it scares you, bores you, annoys you, intimidates you, just cut to the chase. Come right out and ask yourself. Is it time to quit, right now? You don’t have to know what tomorrow’s answer will be; all we’re talking about is today. And if the answer is no, then you have your mantra. Not today. Not today.

*cue outro music*

You are Coached. You are Loooved, and you ARE winning at life. And you're definitely winning at life if you subscribe to my Nuzzel Newsletter, follow me on Facebook or follow me on Instagram. feel free to do all three!

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